Panel explores uses of social media, implications from it

Elizabeth Stoeger, Freelance writer

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“Social media is the incubator of innovation,” a panelist focused on public affair said during a recent social media panel discussion.

Rick Thomas who is a partner at Quinn Thomas public affairs as well as other panelists spoke on how social media relates specifically to their field of practice.

On Sep. 30 in the Nicholson Library, the panel discussion, “Knowing Your World Through Social Media,” was delivered before a crowd of students and faculty.

The event was sponsored by the Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement and was live tweeted.

The panel featured four speakers, each representing a different field for the discussion. Dr. Lisa Weidman, an associate professor and chair of Linfield’s department of mass communication, was the moderator for the panel.

“Social media fills a role that hasn’t been there for a long time,” said Jerry Casey. It provides a “level of engagement that we have never had before.” Casey is the manager of breaking news, photos, and video for the Oregonian Media Group.

Social networking sites have been a mixed blessing to the news industry.

On one hand, it allows news outlets to break stories faster than ever, but it is this fast pace that can lead to factual errors and conflicting information.

“The deadline is now. You want to be correct, but you want to be first,” Casey said.

“The need and drive for news … that has not diminished,” Kelli Matthews said. But it has become critical that viewers evaluate their own sources and “keep a mental scorecard” of sites that provide correct information.

Matthews is an instructor of public relations at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and has had over 12 years of experience in public relations.

In public relations, the struggle is teaching organizations how to utilize social networking sites ethically and responsibly. They are “powerful tools, they’re not to be taken lightly,” Matthews said.

It is also becoming increasingly important for politicians to be active on social media, and “to participate in that domain and that dialogue,” Thomas said.

Since social media is a relatively new phenomenon, psychological research does not agree on its effect.

“We’re still learning, we’re still trying to figure it out,” Megan Kozak Williams said.

Williams is an associate professor in the psychology department here at Linfield whose academic research includes the psychological impact of using social networking sites.

One psychological finding showed the difference in impact of active and passive participation in social media.

Active participation, meaning writing posts, commenting and liking, makes one feel connected. Passive use, scrolling down without reading or engaging, has the opposite effect and can have a negative impact.

In a time when “the desire for information is insatiable, ” Matthews urged users of social media to be self-reflective. “Be conscious and conscientious of the ways you’re participating.”

Be wary of advertisements that pop up on Facebook and Twitter. Matthews pointed out that, “If you’re not paying for the service, you are the product.”

Responsible use of social media continues to be the battle at hand for users.

People are particular about what foods and TV shows they choose to watch, so the key is to “be that same consumer in social media,” Thomas said.

Casey also pointed out the fact that it is impossible to predict the future of social media.

“I couldn’t tell you what it’s going to be like in 10 more years … something else is going to come along that will surprise us,” Casey said. “10 years from now, it may look totally different.”